Tuesday, February 24, 2004

God revealed in community

a tangent touched off from here

Modernity sold us a pup. It sold us a belief you needed truth as all-encompassing and systematic. Modernity took truth and wrapped it in culture and then sold it to us as a cultural syncretistic product: truth as pure, abstract, timeless.

Yet, the God of the Bible was a God of community … moulding community in the desert, moulding community in the church … urging community through the broken body of Christ…..telling story after story, narrative after narrative of the actions of the communal God … refusing to sieve narrative into doctrinal purity, God took the risk of letting stories serve as the interpretive vessel for the body of God.

For where 2 or 3 are gathered in my name, there is Christ … he broke bread and gave it to them … then their eyes were opened and they recognized him ….

The God of all, revealed in community…

When moderns encounter postmoderns they sniff for a watering down of truth. What they fail to smell is the decaying odor, the rotting carcase, of their modern, all-encompassing, systematic cultural approach to truth. (Note what I said, the cultural approach is rotting, not the truth.)

Posted by steve at 09:52 PM


  1. when moderns encounter postmoderns

    Steve Taylor posts some wise words about the encounter between modern talk and post-modern talk. I think he sums it up well – I see so much talking at cross purposes in the heated debates that are linked on our side bar. Modernity sold us a pup. It sol…

    Comment by signposts — February 25, 2004 @ 12:17 pm

  2. Steve,
    What about all the parts of the Bible that aren’t stories? What about all the epistles and prophets and wisdom lit that is direct doctrinal teaching, and doctrinal interpretation of those stories in other parts of the Bible? Are those parts of Scripture less the word of God than the narratives?


    Comment by Matt Powell — February 25, 2004 @ 12:18 pm

  3. There are parts of the bible that don’t contribute to story, to narrative? I don’t remember any. Is there really any direct doctrinal teaching TO US? I don’t think so. The bible wasn’t written to us. It was written to “The church a Phillipi”, “The church at Collossae”, or to unnamed communities. Historically locating the scriptures forces us to see the narratives behind them, the stories of God told through interactions with the vessels of this communities.

    I can’t speak for Steve, but I get a little nitpicky about what I call the “Word” of God. John tells us that Jesus was the Word. Semantics? Maybe. But I think the former identification of the Word as printed text is an Enlightenment attempt to do exactly what Steve said: a modern attempt to sell us truth as all-encompassing and systematic. “Everything’s in the book.” You just have to read and break it down into its lowest common denominator. But you can’t really put your finger quite entirely on the person of Jesus.

    Barry Taylor at New Ground in Hollywood is doing a series on the bible as “sacrament”. I think it’s closer to where I would like to be.

    Comment by Matt Westbrook — February 26, 2004 @ 4:18 am

  4. Who is my neighbour?

    Comment by Tim — February 26, 2004 @ 8:26 am

  5. Matt,
    I get my understanding of the doctrine of Scripture from the Belgic Confession, one of the creeds of my denomination. This creed predates the Enlightenment by a few centuries, and they quote Peter and Paul for their doctrine, among others. Jesus quoted Scriptures that were a thousand years old, as if they applied to the people of his day. I know it’s convenient for you to think of this doctrine of Scripture as an enlightenment invention, but reality’s against you on this. Just because it’s old doesn’t make it right, but it is a very old doctrine. Your view is more likely the innovation, not mine.


    Comment by Matt Powell — February 26, 2004 @ 11:25 am

  6. I can appreciate your denominational creed; I hope you can appreciate a critique of it.

    1455 Gutenberg printing of the Bible (foundation laid for Enlightenment)

    1561 Belgic Confession written

    1651 (90 years later) Hobbes writes “Leviathan”, typically seen by most as the first mainstream philosophical entry of the Enlightenment

    The Enlightenment doesn’t happen without the Gutenberg printing. With it, knowledge flows, man’s confidence, etc. Point is, the thinking was going on easily within the time of the Confession.

    But that is really beside the point. The bible itself never calls the use of the Old Testament text the “word of God”, yet the term is used constantly to denote the active, saving message (located in the hearers, not the text) of God in Jesus.

    Of course Peter and Paul quoted scriptures as if they applied to their day. But these were when the scriptures pointed to the activity of Jesus, which, of course, is also active in our day. Never were they seen as one-to-one ratio (that’s why their use doesn’t often flow logically, like Matthew’s use — a fact that has dumbfounded many a modern scholar). I get my understanding of this from seminary training, NT Wright (What did St. Paul Really Say?), Stanley Grenz (Reinvisioning Evangelical Theology), and others.

    Article 3 of the Belgic Confession, if I may:

    “We confess that this Word of God was not sent, nor delivered by the will of man, but that holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, as the apostle Peter saith. And that afterwards God, from a special care, which he has for us and our salvation, commanded his servants, the prophets and apostles, to commit his revealed word to writing; and he himself wrote with his own finger, the two tables of the law. Therefore we call such writings holy and divine Scriptures.”

    The assumption that I dispute is that the Word — as defined by the scriptures themselves — could even possibly be “committed to writing”! And, of course, if it couldn’t, then by no means would it be possible to call them “divine” (not to mention the incredible theological gymnastics required to do so).

    I don’t mean to disparage your confession, but to make an argument for why I disagree with one simple basic tenet.

    Comment by Matt Westbrook — February 26, 2004 @ 1:04 pm

  7. Steve,

    Is it necessary for us to see modernity as the enemy?
    You wrote: “What they fail to smell is the decaying odor, the rotting carcass, or their modern, all-encompassing, systematic cultural approach to truth.” I have to be honest. That statement makes me wince a bit. My assumption is that the moderns being referred to, the ones who ‘sniff for a watering down of the truth’ are believers. The reason I make that assumption is because there have been too many modern-minded religious professionals who have accused me of watering down the truth without having ever heard me speak.

    I’m not interested in being like those who have taken potshots at me, made what I do in ministry an ‘us or them’ kind of deal. I don’t respect the things that have been said of me and others whom I have community with, but I won’t return fire, no matter how clever there comments, critiques or barbs.

    I know you said the cultural approach is rotting, but it feels like you’re talking about people, and those people are believers, and . . . well, I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but you’re better than that.

    With warm regard,


    Comment by Ron — February 26, 2004 @ 7:26 pm

  8. Ron
    this post wasn’t aimed at any person. it was a tangent reflecting on my experiences over many years, and the wondering if people are actually using language in different ways, and so misunderstandings are heightened.

    Comment by steve — February 28, 2004 @ 4:46 pm

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